A local veterans organization that used to host bingo games in Redwood City may again open its doors to the popular pastime.
Redwood City's American Legion Post 105, in partnership with a Santa Clara nonprofit, plans to revive its popular bingo games, hosting them at least twice weekly.
The Redwood City Council last week voted unanimously to accept changes to its bingo ordinance and passed it, opening the door for Post 105's request to restart its games after a 7-year hiatus. The bingo events would be run by the nonprofit organization Vanguard Music and Performing Arts at Post 105's facility, located at 651 El Camino Real.
City staff said some bingo proceeds would be used for a music program for Redwood City children, and other proceeds would benefit the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps.
Redwood City doesn't currently have any bingo games operating in the city.
George Smith, the commander of American Legion Post 105, said the bingo operation would allow the Post to continue supporting veterans and the Redwood City community.
"That's what we're here for. All of our proceeds either go to supporting the Post, as we have to pay bills just like everybody else and whatever we get that's left over goes to support our veterans and our community,” Smith said. “We work with the high schools; we work with the children's foundations; we work with Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts – any foundation. We work with the Junior Football League; we work with anybody who will come and ask us for our support.
"And we really appreciate this opportunity to bring bingo back. I get calls – five or 10 a week – asking for bingo. So the community wants it, and it will allow us to do a lot of good," he added.
California law considers bingo a form of gaming, but bingo is excluded from the statewide prohibition on gambling if the game raises money for charity. Under California's Revenue and Taxation Code, senior organizations, mobile home park associations and school district-affiliated organizations are also eligible for charitable bingo.
Individual jurisdictions, such as city councils, regulate and license bingo games under Section 19 of Article IV of the State Constitution. According to a city staff report, Redwood City's bingo ordinance, which was first established in the 1960s, hasn't been updated since 1985. Bingo-gaming permits may be given to nonprofit organizations holding IRS charitable 501(c)(3) status. Those groups must not pay employees and must use only volunteers from their charitable organization.
The Post 105 Foundation, a charitable organization with a 501(c)(3) status, used to run bingo games until 2017 at the American Legion building. However, two of its founding members died, and a third is fighting cancer. Post 105 itself, which has a separate IRS C-19 tax exemption as a veterans organization, doesn't have the 501(c)(3) status necessary to run bingo games legally, Richard Pierce, an attorney for Post 105, said.
Post 105 members want to rent the facility to Vanguard, which has been operating bingo games to raise money for music and arts programs since 1975. The organization, which has 501(c)(3) status, pays people who operate their games, and not all of them are affiliated with the organization, which is required by Redwood City law.
Santa Clara, where Vanguard currently operates a bingo operation, has a similar restriction requiring that 100% of the money from bingo games can't be used to pay employees or anyone in the nonprofit. Instead, Vanguard pays bingo-game employees from revenue from other non-bingo-related donations, which the Santa Clara police chief approved, Pierce said. Vanguard would do the same with its Redwood City bingo operations.
"There will be additional benefits flowing from the fact that the rental payments that Vanguard will pay to the Post will not only pay the Post operating cost, there will be excess funds that will continue to be used for charitable purposes,” Pierce said. “That's been going on for the last 75 years. And it supports the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts …, and any number of organizations. And the Post also will allow deserving groups to use the hall that's normally rented out, at low or no cost."
Post 105 approached the city regarding the proposed ordinance changes starting in fall 2021, but COVID-19 derailed the effort. City staff investigated other cities’ ordinances and changes in state law before putting together the proposed ordinance. The council's approved changes could open the door to other charitable organizations to host bingo games as well, staff said.
"The Post is glad that the bingo game is going to finally start. It's beneficial to the Post, it's beneficial to the town, and it will be run properly," Pierce said.
The amended ordinance gives the Redwood City chief of police the authority to grant one-year bingo-operation permits to qualified 501(c)(3) organizations. Hours of operation are from 11 a.m. to midnight, and no minors under age 18 are allowed to play. No more than four games a week may run, and they cannot go on for more than six hours per session. No alcohol or drugs, including cannabis, are allowed on the premises or in the parking area, nor are intoxicated persons.
While no one is allowed to benefit or take wages from the games, the ordinance allows the organizations to pay outside security for the events. Violations can result in a misdemeanor conviction and up to $10,000 in fines.
Permits can be renewed annually, but organizations must submit a report showing the total amount of money they received, the total amount paid out in prizes, detailed operations costs, and itemize how and to the extent that the revenue benefited Redwood City.
While the permit fee is nominal – about $50 – organizations would also be responsible for reimbursing the city for any traffic control or other enforcement the city needs to use. The ordinance takes effect starting Oct. 11.